Nifty Drills for Nifty Feet
Donald A. Chu, Ph.D., PT, ATC, CSCS

Ever wonder how certain players can be so “nifty” on the court. Their footwork is quick and precise and they always look like they are in balance. You wonder how some of these players can make things look so easy. The fact is that these players are “centered” over their base of support. What does that mean you ask?

This means that the player’s center of gravity (a point on the body around which their weight is distributed) is always in an imaginary area between their two feet (base of support) as they are moving laterally, setting up for shots, and moving up and back on the court, it is possible to get the body’s center of gravity outside the body and outside the base of support. When this happens the player is usually accelerating in a specific direction and is “out of balance”. Being out of balance is good when you want to move in a specific direction, and bad when you want to change that direction.

Tennis players need to learn to move their feet quickly, keeping their center of gravity over their base of support so they can start, stop, and change direction quickly. Here are some drills that can help the tennis player learn how to move in ways that teach the “art” of staying balanced while they are moving.

The following drills can be performed on the court or any large area that allows the cones to be set up at, or close to the prescribed distances. The equipment needed to do all of these drills is a maximum of six plastic cones. A stop watch gives the coach and tennis player objective feedback for goal-setting and goals to be accomplished.

Drill # 1: The Cross

Equipment: 5 plastic cones

Set-Up: Arrange the cones in the following pattern.

Action: Start by running forward to a point in front of the center cone, then change direction by shuffling laterally and begin to weave a figure 8 around the cones. After shuffling laterally through all three cones, accelerate forward, running around the forward cone and finishing back to the start. This action can be timed to see how long it takes to navigate the course.

Alternate Drills:
1) Repeat the drill going both left and right when starting the weave portion of the drill.

2) Have the player repeat the drill three times in a row to stress anaerobic endurance.

Drill # 2: The Snake

Equipment: 6 plastic cones

Set-Up: Arrange the six cones 3-4 feet apart along the baseline.

Action: Start at one end and weave through the cones using a lateral shuffle. Do this against time for three repetitions.

Drill # 3: The Exchange

Equipment: 3 plastic cones

Set-Up: Place two cones on the center of the baseline, and one on the service line.

Action: Start on the baseline, pick up one of the cones and prepare to sprint to the service line. On “go”, sprint to the service line and exchange cones. Place the first cone down before picking up the second one. Repeat this action by sprinting back to the baseline and exchange the cones there. Repeat this action for 30 seconds and count the number of pick-ups for total score.

Drill # 4: The Sidewinder

Equipment: 3 plastic cones

Set-Up: Arrange all three cones on the baseline with the middle cone on the center of the baseline and the other cones 3-4 feet on either side of the first cone.

Action: Start at one end of the cones and begin shuffling laterally, weaving through the cones to the right or left then moving in the opposite direction. Once having weaved all the way through the cones three times, take a cross-over step and sprint to the sideline. Touching the sideline, return by shuffling along the baseline and begin weaving in the opposite direction for a total of three times, then take a crossover step and sprint to the opposite sideline. Repeat the drill until each sideline is touched three times.

Drill # 5: Shuffle Split

Equipment: 4 plastic cones

Set-Up: 3 cones placed along the baseline as in the previous drill. The fourth cone is placed 4 feet in front of the service line.

Action: Weave through the cones starting from either the left or right side. After finishing the weave, sprint forward and perform a split step at the forward cone. Then back pedal to the opposite side of the cones in the starting area and repeat the drill until six split steps are performed.

(Before beginning any exercise program consult with your physician.)

Dr. Donald Chu is a member of the USTA Sport Science Committe.This article appeared in the USTA Sport Science For Tennis Newsletter, Spring 1995 issue.


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